Lying Time Could Indicate the Health Status of Fresh Animals

Heins Family Farms in Higginsville, MO. ( Wyatt Bechtel )

Spending more than half of her day lying down, a cow will concentrate approximately 12-14 hours per day towards resting. Designating roughly 4 of those hours to sleeping, adequate lying time is an essential part of overall cow comfort. 

During the first two weeks after calving, fresh animals may experience decreased resting behaviors. According to a recent study published in the April issue of the Journal of Dairy Science, this drop in sleep may indicate an underlying health issue.

Studying a total of 1,052 fresh animals, scientists analyzed time spent resting using activity monitors attached to a cow’s rear leg. Cases of milk fever, retained placenta, metritis, mastitis, pneumonia, and digestive disorders within 30 days in milk were also recorded.

Researchers found that lying time during the first 14 days in milk after parturition had a significant linear association to increased metabolic health issues, especially ketosis.

Decreased lying time reduces the possibility for cows to rest and sleep, but it may also lower time spent at the feed bunk. 

"Cows will sacrifice feeding in an effort to recoup lost resting time," says Rick Grant, president of the W.H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute.

When cows are deprived of rest for two and four hours per day, they will compensate with more resting time and less time feeding themselves.

"Dairy cows have a strong motivation to rest," points out Kathy Lee, dairy educator with Michigan State University Extension. "Their natural behavior is to meet their requirement for resting, which may mean giving up some time for eating. Studies also have indicated that cows exhibit stress responses when they cannot meet their resting requirement."

Lying time and energy balance are critical for transition cow health, especially during the pre- and postpartum period. Be sure to provide a clean and comfortable spot for animals to lie down along with ample resting space. Additionally, take time to observe the stocking density of your transition cow pens. Too many animals in one location may prevent animals from getting the 12-14 hours of rest they need. 

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